EdFringe 2019 Review: Taboo


Rating: ★★★★ 
Venue: Sweet Novotel

Karin Schmid brings Taboo to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It is an intelligent, informative exploration into the work of Käthe Petersen – a German National Socialist lawyer and social politician. Wider themes of female sexuality, stereotypes and gender performativity are investigated in this rich piece.

Produced in the style of a fictitious chat show, Taboo sees Käthe Petersen interviewed by an off-stage voice. Her work in Germany from 1932 to 1966 is explored with Schmid drawing light to the double standards of her principles and policies, whilst also delving into stereotype-heavy advertisements – creatively implemented in the form of adverts to the chat show.

Schmid’s research and clear interest in her subject is apparent from this informative production. Those outwith Germany may not have an awareness of Petersen (I certainly did not), yet Schmid immerses us in her story. Exploring how Petersen became affiliated with the Nazis in order to guarantee her work and career, Schmid discusses Petersen’s policies and double-standards used in the treatment of women in Nazi Germany.

Petersen was something of a collective guardian for thousands of women dubbed “mentally frail” or “immoral”. Yet her work saw the forced sterilisation of women and the ill-treatment of countless vulnerable people under the Nazi regime. Schmid presents Petersen as something of a moral superior – a performance which showcases the double standards and moral injustice of Petersen’s work and her unwavering lack of self-doubt – whilst also channelling the glimmers of humanity in the social worker. Her failure to act on brothels for soldiers – where one woman could be expected to see fifteen men a day – is also discussed.

The clever interview structure of the show continues to highlight the hypocrisy and horrors of these outrageous crimes, yet also brings in further concepts like the damaging effect of female stereotypes. 1950s adverts – one from Dr Oetker about creating sweet treats to please your husband, or a PSA exploring the dangers of easily distracted female drivers (who don’t wear seatbelts due to their bosoms) highlight the damaging contemporary foundations of some of the gender stereotypes that still plague our society.

Schmid has crafted an intelligent and informative piece which explores numerous rich thematic concepts and shines a light on one of history’s rarely discussed figures, Käthe Petersen.

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